Packing the Stats: Coverage Sacks and Pressure Interceptions

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It’s a rare thing to witness a quarterback get sacked seven times and intercepted four times all in one game. In fact, the last time it happened was back in 2002 when Washington Redskins quarterback Patrick Ramsey faced the New Orleans Saints. But that’s exactly what happened last week when the Green Bay Packers defense seemed to rise up from the ashes and completely stifle the Chicago Bears offensive attack.

ESPN’s Stats & Info blog covered some of the problems quarterback Jay Cutler had when under pressure that evening. Here is the meat of the article:

Cutler struggled on throws traveling more than 10 yards downfield, going 2-for-11 for 35 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions.

Last season Cutler ranked among the best quarterbacks in the NFL on passes of that length, as noted in the chart on the right.

How did the Packers defense attack Cutler?

They sent five or more pass rushers on 13 of Jay Cutler’s 35 dropbacks. Against such pressure, Cutler was 2-for-9 for 24 yards with two interceptions and was sacked four times. Cutler’s 22 percent completion percentage against more than four rushers is lower than the Packers allowed in any game last season.

After last season, it’s been a relief to Packer fans – even if only momentarily – to see the kind of pressure they were able to get on Cutler during Thursday night’s game. But what made this possible in large part was the ability of the defensive backs to blanket the receivers, leaving no options for the quarterback to get the ball out.

Below is a breakdown of each sack and interception forced by the Packers defense that night:

 

SACKS

No.

Play Time

Pressure Speed

Rushers vs. Blockers

Receivers

Sack Credit

1

Q1 13:37

2.6s

6 vs. 8

2

D. Smith

2

Q1 4:32

2.8s

(4 vs. 5)

4

C. Matthews / E. Walden

3

Q2 9:12

2.6s

(5 vs. 6)

3

C. Matthews

4

Q4 9:07

4.3s

4 vs. 6

4

M. Daniels

5

Q4 8:04

4.2s

(4 vs. 5)

4

C. Matthews

6

Q4 4:09

4.2s

4 vs. 7

3

J. Worthy

7

Q4 3:49

2.4s

5 vs. 6

4

C. Matthews

 

Some notes:

  • Disclaimer: The pressure speed posted is not official, but it should be close. I used the old stopwatch to determine the time from the snap to the time that the quarterback was engaged by the defender.
  • In the “Rushers vs. Blockers” column, those numbers in parentheses indicate the “pure” rushers and blockers. The Packers did a nice job of playing the running back safety valve / checkdown, as he was covered man-to-man each time upon releasing from the blocks. This is how Capers essentially took Forte out of the game (minus the times he actually beat the coverage, such as against DJ Smith).
  • Obviously, things got a little out of control for the Bears in the 4th quarter as they tried to play catch-up. This is where we really saw how the coverage in the secondary allowed the defense to get to Cutler. Three of the four sacks in that quarter took longer than 4 seconds from the time of the snap.
  • With that said, apparently McCarthy’s new 2.5 second play clock is having an effect on the defense. Every other sack hit around that mark.

 

INTERCEPTIONS

No.

Play Time

Throw Time

Rushers vs. Blockers

Receivers

INT Credit

1

Q2 1:13

4.2s

4 vs. 7

3

T. Williams

2

Q3 3:18

5.6s *

3 vs. (6)

4

C. Woodson

3

Q4 11:37

3.9s

5 vs. 8

2

T. Williams

4

Q4 3:07

2.4s

6 vs. 6

4

J. McMillian

 

Some notes:

  • Thomas Hobbes broke down Charles Woodson’s interception in his Packers Play Analysis, but the star next to the “Throw Time” indicates Cutler was flushed out of the pocket in attempting to escape pressure. Pretty good work by the defense there for just a three-man rush.
  • In all of these plays – with the exception of the last one – the pass rushers were outnumbered by a total of three extra blockers. Even though Cutler had some extra time to throw, the ability to keep more defensive backs in coverage and still get adequate pressure made the Bear’s night difficult.
  • In light of this, I just don’t get the third interception. It came on a play action fake in which both receivers went deep down the field, leaving absolutely nothing underneath to check down to. The receiver was bracketed, didn’t have the defense beat, and Cutler severely underthrew him. A perfect recipe for an interception.
  • McMillian couldn’t have played the final interception more perfectly. The blitz was risky, as it left all the defensive backs in what was essentially single coverage. The rookie McMillian broke on the route from zone coverage with absolute perfect timing to make the play.

This game really showed how successful a defense can be when a good pass rush works in tandem with solid coverage in the secondary. If the Packers continue to play with this level of team performance, there’s no reason they can’t be a Top 10 defense again.

——————

Chad Toporski, a Wisconsin native and current Pittsburgh resident, is a writer for AllGreenBayPackers.com. You can follow Chad on twitter at @ChadToporski

——————

  • Jay

    So is 3 seconds or less considered a non-coverage sack? I know the 2.5 sec clock thing, but I was wondering what the upper limit was.

    • Chad Toporski

      I think the line hovers around that point. It really depends on the offense play, though – think about the difference between 3-, 5-, and 7-step drops. Plus, you’re also looking at the time available for the quarterback to go through his progression. Does he have time to even check his 3rd or 4th option?

      In some of the cases above, the play hadn’t quite developed yet. In others, there were simply no players open even after it had developed.

      But as a short answer, I’d say that sacks beyond the 3.5s-4s mark are most definitely due to coverage.

  • @GBPlitz

    Great research. I wonder if the presence of Woodson at safety is having an impact here. I know he often doesn’t line up there, but I would be vary curious to hear if that is why they are having a difficulty throwing downfield.

    • @GBPlitz

      I saw this yesterday and it somewhat ties in here. It’s from the Bears perspective and details the sacks (most of them). http://www.windycitygridiron.com/2012/9/18/3333400/chicago-bears-sackwatch-2012-week-2-vs-green-bay-packers

      • Chad Toporski

        Nice find! Thanks for sharing.

      • David

        This is the best line from that article.

        “Spencer tries to lean on him without moving his feet and Matthews is far too relentless to have such lazy technique stop him.”

      • Wild_Bill1949

        That was really a GREAT find. I love defense. I don’t know how many times I watched Cutler go down. Thank you

  • Mr. Bacon

    There is nothing more demoralizing then seeing drive after drive after drive fail because someone or all lineman fail to pickup their assignments correctly.

    Every time Jay snapped the ball, incoming death was inevitable. The game itself was morally over before the 2nd half was beginning. The spirit of the lineman was broken, as the rush of the defense kept on breaking the wall.

    I expect this to continue this week.

  • aaronqb

    Great work Chad!

  • Ron LC

    You can measure what is caught. You can measure what is dropped. As soon as you add subjectives the conclusion becomes baised and therefore, irrelevant. Stats are for liars and cheats. Just ask any maketing director that is trying to introduce anewprodut to ther lin. :)

  • Ron LC

    You can measure what is caught. You can measure what is dropped. As soon as you add subjectives the conclusion becomes baised and therefore, irrelevant. Stats are for liars and cheats. Just ask any maketing director that is trying to introduce anewprodut to ther line. :)

  • Tarynfor12

    “Stats are for liars cheats”.

    Totally disagree.
    Stats are abused by the ignorant or untaught in the proper usage of them.
    As seen below.Always consider who is using the stats.

    • Oppy

      Outstanding clip, Taryn. I don’t know how long it has been since I’ve watched Abbott and Costello do what they do.

  • alex parkhurst
    • Chad Toporski

      Kropog… talk about a name fit for a Viking.

  • PackersRS

    Nice breakdown, Chad. I’ve gone through the @GBPlitz link, re-watched every sack.

    1st one is scheme + play. Good stunt called by Capers and Smith beats Forte.

    2nd one is again scheme + play. Clay flat out beat the LG inside, but Walden, in a brilliant delayed blitz, also had beat the RT.

    3rd one is Matthews wooping Webb with a swim move.

    4th one is coverage + play. Cutler goes through progression, sees nothing, but by then Daniels beat the C and gets to Cutler.

    5th one is coverage. Matthews does beat Webb with a spin move, but Cutler had the time to PA and set his feet, but seeing nothing open he tucks the ball, and Clay gets the sack.

    6th one is coverage again. Cutler has nowhere to go, senses Walden who’s coming off the edge (though it wouldn’t have been a sack) and moves directly to a spinning Worthy.

    7th one is scheme + play. It’s a 5 man rush with a stunt, Clay cuts inside and bullrushes Webb and the RB, and Smith has an open path to the QB.

    It’s obvious it’s almost never one thing, but that’s my subjective view of each. The guys at Windy City Gridiron did a great job analysing each play with gifs to show for.

    And seeing those gifs gave me a newfound appreciation for Capers. After being outcoached the previous game, it was a perfect night for the DC. Beautiful play design and game plan. Let’s hope this keeps going!

    • Chad Toporski

      Nice break down. And it lines up with what the numbers showed… Sacks taking more than 4s can be attributed to good coverage by the secondary.

      Again, it’s also nice to see that they can get the sacks without the help of the secondary, which is arguably more important when it comes to the pass rush.

  • toolkien

    Packer defensive success begins with coverage. In 2009 the Packers were one of the best teams in the league, the offense set a then record for points for the franchise, the D was pretty good, but spongy against good/great passing teams. In 2010, the D was fair at the beginning of the season (after a huge start by Matthews in the PHI game). When Shields/Williams/Collins/Woodson jelled, and they could send pressure from the secondary and still have coverage, they finished great and gave up the second fewest points since the Lombardi era.

    But that secondary strength broke down on two consecutive injuries and the Packers had to play zone the rest of the day and the D was mighty different. Thankfully Matthews and Pickett combined for a timely fumble.

    And then in 2011, Williams and Collins were out/damaged and the Packers played soft zones for a majority of the year and got mightily burned when the sent pressure from the secondary. Without secondary coverage the Packers’ D becomes mediocre at best. Hopefully with Williams back to near top form, Shields over being spooked, Woodson replacing Collins, and someone emerging out of the draft picks, one can only hope to get something close to the 2010 secondary performance. We saw a glimpse of it last Thursday. If he secondary can be ball-hawk, they will be on their assignments, they will get the picks, and the QB will have to take those precious extra half-seconds and the D-linemen and LB’s can get to the QB.

    We will see.

  • Chad Lundberg

    How many times I gotta say it? This defense will ONLY get better as the year progresses.

    There’s a lot of new players on that defense, and they’re pretty talented. Once they groove in, they’ll be unstoppable.

    Nobody is happy with Mike Neal right now, but he was injured all of last season, which personally I believe is the reason he wasn’t able to contribute. He’s healthy now, and once he gets back from suspension, he will fortify an already impenetrable defense.